Hudock says goodbye at Union-Snyder Treatment Court ceremony

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Dec. 16—LEWISBURG — Eleven participants of the Union-Snyder County Treatment Courts graduated Wednesday during the last ceremony retiring President Judge Michael Hudock will preside over.

Graduates and participants, their supporters and loved ones plus Treatment Court staffers crowded the courtroom at the Union County Courthouse for the 35th Commencement Ceremony.

Hudock spoke of his exit, giving thanks and respect to all he worked with, but not before focusing on the graduates: Matthew Sharp, Cassandra Fleming, Robert Walter, Yves Monelle, Justin Cromley, Krista Harriman, Mark Robles, Jonathan Lloyd, Jammie Walters, Riesling Craul and Adam Barge.

The judge compared Treatment Court participants' experiences with "The Wizard of Oz," saying that in their search for heart, brain and courage, they discovered they didn't have to look beyond themselves.

The graduates, and those before them, had the courage to be brutally honest with themselves; had the heart to mend damaged relationships and create new ones; had the mind to make difficult decisions daily. There have been 258 graduates since the program's start.

"You always had it. It was always there," Hudock said.

The Treatment Court program opened in 2008. It's designed as a last chance for repeat offenders to avoid a state prison term. The goal is to thwart recidivism and instill a sober lifestyle through intensive supervision and access to treatment and other social services.

The Union-Snyder program achieved national prominence within the treatment court community, being designated in 2017 as a mentor court by the National Association of Drug Court Professionals and the U.S. Department of Justice. Its role as a mentor court extends through at least 2023.

During Wednesday's ceremony, Sharp approached the podium and took in the setting before speaking. He said he never thought he'd be standing there, having successfully completed the program. Like all who would follow him, he thanked the probation officers, judges and related personnel who make up the Treatment Court team.

"I got some time in jail to think about why I wanted sobriety," Sharp said, explaining he finally put himself ahead of other motivations to maintain recovery. "I never had support like this."

Fleming credited the court program with saving her life. She said she maintained sobriety for 10 years. Then, in 2017, she said she relapsed.

"You put me in jail and you saved my life," Fleming told District Judge Lori Hackenberg, who will succeed Hudock on the county court bench. "Thank God. If I left I don't think I'd be here today."

Robert Walter said he'd never been to rehab. He'd been to jail, though, and said he'd only learned how to cook crack cocaine and make jailhouse liquor. Treatment Court changed him. He said he met good people, found friends and role models and built and developed trust in people.

Recovery doesn't end with a graduation ceremony. Walter said it continues indefinitely.

"My recovery is not over. It's never going to be over. It's something I'll have to work on every day," Walter said.

Guest speaker Jennifer Zampogna shared in that sentiment. A former dermatologist, Zampogna saw her professional career and personal life collapse when she became addicted to pain medication. She was prosecuted by the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office for writing faulty prescriptions for herself. She lost her medical license and her practice.

And, she's built back. She's a recovery advocate, speaking at engagements like the graduation ceremony statewide. She serves as director of operations at Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, a nonprofit aiding attorneys, judges and their relatives in need of peer support and treatment referrals for mental health and substance use issues. She's also a member of the Pennsylvania Advisory Council on Drug and Alcohol Abuse.

Recovery began one step at a time, minute by minute, she said. She encouraged graduates and current participants to consider becoming involved in community service that interests them.

"You have this privilege to be able to do this. Take that opportunity and run with it," Zampogna said before emphasizing the commitment needed to maintain recovery. "I'm either one step closer to enhancing my recovery or I'm one step closer to relapse."

Hudock closed the ceremony and reflected on his career. He expressed gratitude to all of the graduates, thanking them for teaching him about resilience, redemption and overcoming challenges. He thanked Treatment Court staff — including coordinator Steve Diehl, public defender Brian Ulmer and Hackenberg, among them — and his own court staff, as well as his wife. At times, he became emotional as he spoke.

The ceremony closed with a slideshow of moments from past ceremonies and photos showing Hudock celebrating with graduates in the courtroom.

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